Within the past decade, the middle-aged action hero has become an increasingly popular entity in movies. Ever since Liam Neeson shot and punched his way to action film fame in 2008’s Taken, the genre has seen an increase in actors over the age of 50. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a curious thing and film audiences are in for another example of this in The Gunman, a lackluster actioner starring a 53-year-old (but still excellent) Sean Penn. It’s a movie that doesn’t offer anything new but features a pretty impressive cast. Sadly though, the actors can’t save this film from mediocrity and that’s a real shame because there was some real potential here.
The Gunman begins in 2006 in the Congo and follows Jim Terrier (Penn), a mercenary sniper who starts the film by assassinating a notable politician. After his kill, he goes into hiding only to be hunted years later by the same company he used to work for. Now Terrier is on a mission to find out exactly why he’s being targeted and along the way, the love of his life Annie (Jasmine Trinca) gets involved and he and her must fight for their very survival. Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance and Ray Winstone all play former colleagues of Terrier’s and Idris Elba plays a shady INTERPOL agent who seems to know the truth behind the attacks on Terrier.
The cast in The Gunman is the film’s greatest asset and while the starpower is particularly strong here, the film as a whole is severely lacking. This is just a formulaic, by-the-numbers mess that doesn’t really go anywhere. Another unfortunate fact is that the director of the picture, Pierre Morel, is partly responsible for injecting new life into the action genre with the first Taken. The Gunman attempts to ride that wave but everything just comes crashing down. While Sean Penn has a unique and rather special presence on film, even he can’t save this movie from the disaster it eventually ends up being.
Now, not to just focus on the negatives (which are many), The Gunman does offer some exotic locales and gorgeous cinematography. A large portion of the film takes place in Barcelona, Spain and this setting actually serves the film rather well. The final sequence even takes place at a bull fight and this is a rather interesting place to have a final showdown.
Based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman, The Gunman suffers from a sloppy book-to-film transfer. Having said that, if you want to see a movie that has pretty much nothing to offer other than an all-star cast that give it their all, then give this film a try. Javier Bardem and Idris Elba are both painfully underused and Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance definitely continue to amaze with their fantastic range. The gorgeous Jasmine Trinca also adds a much needed female touch and her character’s relationship with Terrier is both sexy and at times, rather heartbreaking. The Gunman may be a stinker overall but the actors are all on point and do their jobs very well. This is one film that sadly misses its mark.